When runners from around Illinois toe the starting line Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria for the state cross country meet, it will be the culmination of months of hard work this season in addition to countless hours of off-season miles.
That feeling of reaching your goal will be an especially sweet emotion for Batavia senior Trevor Hollis.
Hollis joined Mike DiDomenico's squad three years ago with all kinds of promise. But a series of shin splints, stress fractures and hip problems have kept him rehabbing more than running the past three years.
Hollis missed his sophomore and junior track seasons. He didn't run in a cross country meet this fall until four weeks ago, but after taking fifth last Saturday at the Class 3A St. Charles East sectional, Hollis will end his high school cross country career running at the state meet.
"That is a great story for Trevor," DiDomenico said. "We told him to be patient, take his time, we started coaching him slowly getting back. We brought him back slow, all modified workouts, combination of biking and swimming and running on grass."
Hollis said he still doesn't feel 100 percent but has found a way to race through it.
"It hurts the first mile and goes away and the last half mile it starts coming back to me and you just have to push through," said Hollis, sporting a satisfied smile Saturday after making it all the way back. "It's really hard to keep training and injuring yourself and having to take time off and then get back into shape. We just played it smart and just took all for the postseason."
Hollis, who placed 13th in 15:49 at the regional, said it helped him make the late charge Saturday by running a LeRoy Oaks course he knows well. He was in 12th with less than half a mile remaining but passed seven runners late to finish fifth in 15:14.
"It's a big advantage knowing the course," Hollis said. "I think it's safe to say it's our favorite course. You know the right places to kick. I know my own body and for how long I can maintain the kick."
However Hollis runs in Peoria, DiDomenico is glad to see him there after all the injuries he's had to battle through.
"It's a great story for him," DiDomenico said. "He's our senior. It's a great way to finish the year. Just imagine how good and how exciting it is for him to be able to come back from an injury-riddled career to now making it to state. That's a lot of satisfaction."
St. Charles North is the lone area Class 3A team to reach state after taking second to Naperville North at LeRoy Oaks on Saturday.
Spencer Gray led the North Stars with his best race of the season, finishing second. When asked about goals at state, Gray pointed to the team finish ahead of his own.
"We're looking to get top 15," said Gray who ran a 15:33 at state last year for the North Stars to take 96th and help his team to a ninth-place finish.
Nick Borger also ran at state last year for the North Stars and was 10 seconds behind Gray to take 120th while Nathan Klair is the third returning state runner who was 163rd a year ago.
Just making it back to state was a huge accomplishment for Kevin Harrington's crew.
"We were nervous," Harrington said. "It was a coin flip. Whoever ran well was going to get through and whoever didn't wasn't. We just as easily could have been ninth if we didn't run well as we got second."
The North Stars have established themselves as one of the most consistent programs around, and the boys cross country team has had as good of postseason success as any at the school. They have now qualified for state nine years in a row and finished second in state in 2007 and third in 2006.
"It means a lot," Harrington said. "It's really at testament, I talked to coach Reed Vostal, he was our first coach, he started the ball rolling. There's a culture here. It's got to be a culture of running. The kids put in tons of effort. We didn't back off until a couple weeks ago and they were tired but boy it feels good now."
West Aurora senior Omar Gomez and Geneva senior Mike Bianchina both qualified as individuals. Bianchina finished one spot behind Gray in third pace at sectionals.
"I think top 25 (at state) would be a great goal for him," Geneva coach Bob Thomson said. "The way he has been coming on the last couple weeks it would be to grab one of those all-state spots."
In 2A, Kaneland, Aurora Central Catholic and St. Francis all qualified as did Wheaton Academy senior Widi Moestopo.
Girls race: Like the St. Charles North boys, Geneva's girls have a long line of postseason success including the 2007 and 2008 state championships.
Coach Bob Thomson's team made it back to Peoria by finishing third last Saturday. He didn't have a senior among his top six led by freshman McKenzie Altmayer (17:45.6), sophomore Brook Nusser (17:47.4), junior Sydney Gelis (18:04.4), junior Kathryn Adelman (18:14.3), sophomore Marin Leone (18:30.9) and freshman Emma McSpadden (18:37.8).
"Our initial goal, we're ranked 10th going in, is to hold onto our ranking and move up from there and I certainly think they are capable of proving of being better than top 10," Thomson said. "After that we just don't know."
St. Charles North qualified for state for the third straight season under coach Shari Hayes paced by junior Ashley England's 17:39.
Now that the North Stars have established themselves as a consistent state threat, Hayes is looking forward to her team moving up in future seasons. Her top four runners from the sectional will all be back in 2013.
"For many years we didn't get through ever," Hayes said. "I'd like to be one of the higher teams in the future but fourth or fifth is still pretty good. The girls are starting to become more of a tradition and hopefully we can keep it going."
St. Charles East sophomore Torree Scull and Batavia freshman Dakota Roman also qualified.
After a regional championship and then a third-place finish against a tough sectional field, Kaneland aims for a trophy in Class 2A while their front-runner Victoria Clinton should be one of the fastest in the race. St. Francis also qualified, as did Aurora Central Catholic's Jenna Koerner and Karina Liz, and Rosary's Kara Kalisz.